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CIF-SS DIV. 12 FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS – Valley Christian’s defense overpowers Rancho Alamitos in first round victory

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

November 7, 2022

When the Valley Christian High football team is on, there is no stopping the Defenders. Entering the CIF-Southern Section Division 12 playoffs with a 3-7 record, the team has been playing some of its better football of the season and last Friday night was no exception.

The Defenders broke a close game wide open by scoring 20 points in the second quarter, led by as many as 26 points entering the fourth quarter and knocked off Rancho Alamitos High 40-27 in a first round game. V.C., the second-ranked team in the division, improved to 4-7 and has won two of its last three games.

“Man, ultimately, we get to live another day,” exhaled V.C. first-year head coach Nick Walker. “It’s special; we haven’t won [a playoff game] since [2017]. When you look at it, we’re creating something and that’s what the bigger picture is.”

Following a punt on V.C.’s opening drive, the defense created the game’s first points as sophomore safety Austin Abrahams picked off Chris Hurley on the second play for the Vaqueros and returned it 13 yards. Later in the opening quarter, the Garden Grove League co-champions tied the game when Hurley connected with Emanuel Tellez for 52 yards.

But the game would turn around in the second quarter beginning with a three-yard score from sophomore running back JoJo Apisala almost three minutes in. Then on the first play of the ensuing drive, senior Casey Bouma retuned an interception 40 yards for a score.

“It feels good and we’re out here to get a ring,” said Bouma of the win.

Another Hurley to Tellez combination, this one for 35 yards, made it 21-14 with 7:30 left in the half before the Defenders scored on three of their next five drives. First, Apisala ended a seven-play drive with an eight-yard run with 4:37 left in the half and a 27-14 lead. Then on V.C.’s first drive of the second half, it chewed up nearly five minutes off the clock, ran 13 plays and capped off the 62-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Joe DeYoung to senior wide receiver Micah Maurer.

Both defenses would step up their game a bit to close out the stanza. Senior lineman Johnny Miller sacked Hurley on first down and eventually, Rancho Alamitos had to punt. Two plays later, Jesus Diego picked off DeYoung, but the Defenders returned the favor when freshman Jaden Hernandez intercepted a Hurley pass at the three-yard line, denying the Vaqueros a chance to make it 34-21. The interception would hurt the visitors as DeYoung launched a 94-yard touchdown pass to Bouma for the clincher with 55.8 seconds left in the third quarter.

“I saw one on one, so I was like, ‘coach, can I go over there’,” Bouma questioned. “I went over there and got us a touchdown. But it was all Joe’s throw.”

How good was V.C.’s defense? Rancho Alamitos was inside V.C.’s 20-yard line seven times and was denied any type of score five times. Nearly midway through the first quarter, senior cornerback Nick Bozanic blocked a 23-yard field goal attempted from Angel Diaz. Add that to the Abrahams and Hernandez interceptions and stops on fourth and goal at the three-yard line near the end of the first half and fourth and goal at the five-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Had it not been for those defensive stops, this this game could have ended differently.

“They played light’s out,” said Walker. “When you look at it, they just played how they’re supposed to, and if you play the game how it’s supposed to be played, you’re going to come out successful. We had a few mental mistakes; a couple of long passes that they dominated on, and that’s okay. We just corrected them at the half and tried not to let it happen again.”

“We just a had a lot of communication and we came together and made some plays,” said Bouma. “I would say our defense has been a little better, but our offense is heating up.”

Apisala led the Defenders with six and a half tackles, followed by five from sophomore lineman Tupu Toloai and four and a half from Abrahams. Bouma had two and a half tackles, plus the interception. Despite the Vaqueros gaining 420 yards and having Hurley pass for 287 yards and three touchdowns, the Defenders got the plays when they needed to.

“You can’t ask for a better tandem,” said Walker of Apisala and Bouma. “They are the factors; they are the ones that are going to make us go. JoJo as a leader, Casey as a leader and they just make it happen. That’s the key…just being relentless when you do this stuff.

“Ultimately, we couldn’t contain anything in between the tackles,” he later added. “They got some passes out, which is expected. They’re a good team; they’re 9-1. But understand that we shut it down once we understood it more.”

Offensively, the Defenders gained 374 yards on 58 plays, led by DeYoung, who completed 11 passes for 224 yards, Apisala (71 yards on 14 carries), senior running back Major Brown (49 yards on 15 carries) and Bouma (five receptions for 128 yards).

“Joe is phenomenal,” said Walker. “The kid wants to learn; he wants to get better. He wants to be the best and the kid is amazing. He’s going to get it done and we have another year with him and that’s probably the biggest thing.”

Up next for V.C. is a road game tonight against Portola High, which knocked off Rialto High 27-21 last Friday. Walker said in order for the Defenders to come away with a win against the Bulldogs, they need to execute and communicate more on defense, so the team doesn’t blow coverages. Another area of concern is in the discipline department where V.C. was flagged nine times for 97 yards with three of them going for facemask infractions.

“Ah man, those are going to kill us,” said Walker. “We get those every week and it’s a relentless process. Most of them were facemask and stuff like that. We’re just tackling high, and we’ll clean that up.”

This will be the second meeting between the two schools with V.C. losing 34-17 on Sept. 6, 2019. In that game, Colin Abrahams went 18 of 27 for 289 yards and a touchdown with Andrew Lange catching six of those for 153 yards and the score. Portola was established in 2016 and its football program has an all-time record of 27-23 with a playoff mark of 2-2.

The Pacific Valley League champions, like the Defenders, are 4-7 but began the season losing six of their first seven games and have scored at least 27 points four times while allowing at least 27 points seven times. Portola’s first win of the season was a 35-21 decision against Cerritos High on Sept. 2.

V.C. is in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017 when that team finished at 9-3. One more win will put V.C. in the semifinals for the first time since 2016 when that team won the Division 9 title as part of a 12-3 season.

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